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Pictures of Matchstick Men

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It was a bright and clear spring day as I sat at the outdoor table in front of the Administration building during a break in classes. I was enjoying a cold sliced chicken sandwich on soft white bread with mayo, tomato and lettuce and an ice cold Sprite. Along with my bag of chips. Of course, I had my chocolate chip cookies.

All was good with the world today. It was breezy, I like breezy. I like hearing the wind ruffle the leaves in the trees. The world seems not so stagnant when the breeze makes it vibrant and alive. This all, in spite of what terrible shit is in the news.

Then, my colleague, Marty Rhodes plopped down right beside me with his lunch from McDonald’s. Marty was a real malcontent, he complained about everything, I mean EVERYTHING. It started with what little we were paid as adjunct professors, all the way across the spectrum to the quality of students, as he would say, ”Nowadays.”

I was just as guilty as he was for occasionally, running down the students at this “for profit college.” But Marty never let up. The vast majority of students came ill prepared and totally disinterested. That’s just the fact.

The students believed they (or their parents) paid the tuition and therefore deserved all “A”s. All they had to do was sit there. I adjusted my class presentations and expectations for that.

Between bites of his Big Mac, Marty went on about the current crop of 18 year old students. “When I was 18 years old, I took College seriously” he sternly said. “Look at these losers “nowadays,” they’re useless.” Marty went on gesturing with a wave of his left arm as he shoveled his Golden Fries into his mouth.

I was only half paying attention to Marty as he ranted on. My attention was diverted by checking out the lovely looking new secretary to the President.

She was about 45 years old, with long auburn hair that was blowing in the breeze and she had sparkling deep brown eyes. Her make up colorfully and tastefully accentuated her beautiful classic features. A whiff of her exquisite perfume blew toward me in the breeze as she passed.

Did I mention I love the breeze?

My eyes just continually followed her. Knowing I was watching her, she turned her head and gave me a friendly bright smile as she entered the building. I appreciate women.

I love the breeze.  And “I loves all the womens of the world” as the “The Floaters” sang in their 1970‘s classic hit, “Float On.”

It was almost One PM and time for my Interpersonal Communication class. I arrived at the room, as usual, ten minutes early. The students slowly showed up.

The same five students drifted in between five and ten minutes late. I really didn’t care anymore. Marty was so right. These people are terminal, and might even be congenital, idiots.

The corporation that owns this “institution” uses high sales pressure on some of these knucklehead students. They wind up taking out massive student loans. I think that sucks. This corporation is run by financial predators. Imagine, in hock for $40,000.00 for a useless Associates Degree.

Once again, these people are really not that bright. This school is a diploma mill. I thinking about resigning. I still might have a little integrity surviving in my small right toe.

I know student employment expectations (as fostered by the Admissions Department) have a small chance of becoming reality. The graduates of this august institution are mostly equipped and educated to be eight dollar an hour security guards at the Mall.

But they watch CSI/NY and they think that’s the Norm.

No, you clueless dolts, Norm is the guy who works in your school cafeteria.

But students must take responsibility. How can they with their unrealistic demands. And without any semblance of a work ethic? Not to mention a dangerous lack of understanding as to what’s out in the real world, even when I try to tell them what to expect.

Example:

Students come to the Criminal Justice Program for many reasons. Most want to be Police Officers, Court Officers, Correction Offices, Parole Officers or Probation Officers.  Some want to change the system from within and confront the evil and devilishly dominated criminal justice establishment. This is not the place to do any of that.

There’s Cherr’LL, a bleached blonde, 300 pound practically illiterate 19 year old female. She’s extremely proud to be a single mother of three children from three different fathers.

Cherr’LL’s here on a “stipend” from the Department of Social Services. The county pays her tuition, rent and supports her three offspring as well.

Deadbeat dads, you know. Maybe the county should send her to be a DNA guest on Maury Povich? Recoup some of their expenditure?

Cherr’LL will gladly tell anyone she hates cops. But she’s determined to become a NYPD detective. I tried to explain that in order to become a detective, you first have to be a cop. And be a good cop at that. She didn’t want to hear about it. “I ain’t going to be no cop, I’m gonna be a NYPD detective” she insisted, “in the Major Case Squad.”

To quote Steve Martin: “EXCUSSSSSSE MEEEEEEEEE”

My new response to any inane statement about students staking out unrealistic career goals as Cherr’LL does is now a cheerful and enthusiastic: “Good for You!”

*******

But then again, “Along Comes Mary.” Mary Cummings is the Dean of Students. She is a life long left over hippie Ivy League educated liberal. Mary is always up beat and encourages all the students no matter how preposterous their ideas are.

She is such a liberal she has enough white guilt to sell herself into slavery as a form of reparation. She constantly berates her self for her micro-aggressions.

“A day without acknowledging micro-aggressions is like a day without sunshine” should be her mantra.

One day Mary, Marty and a few other faculty members were having an intellectual discourse in her office on Mary’s favorite topic: Our Students.

In defense against overwhelming faculty grievances about students, Mary just put this statement out there: “Well, where and what were you all doing on today, April 25th when YOU were eighteen?” She added “Were you any different?”

As I was passing by, Mary waved me in and looked directly at me for an answer. She repeated her question, thinking I was a closet liberal. I just said “I was out of the country.” I immediately excused myself explaining my next class was about to start.

*******

On Thursday, 25 April 1968 I was 18 years old. I was a Gunnersmate Third Class. I was assigned to USCGPBR 45450 along with three other crew members. Boswainsmate Chief Reginald Hooves, Engineman Third Class Timmy Ryan and Gunnersmate Third Class Richie Smith.

Kind of like that boat in Francis Ford Coppola’s film: “Apocalypse Now.”

We were assigned to an isolated duty station on a unknown river somewhere in South Vietnam. As usual, playing a boring and sometimes deadly cat and mouse game with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

That’s what we did, being assigned to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, better known as MACV.  Let the Dinks find us, and then, kill them. Simple.

Timmy just got back from a week of R&R in Bangkok. He had scored some really good LSD and had only two tabs left.

Richie was a PBR man (not just the boat, Pabst Blue Ribbon;  the Beer.) He did not do drugs. Richie was a clean cut midwesterner.

The Chief was more than double our age, a lifer. A country Southerner at heart, He loved his whiskey. He knew nothing about drugs or the drug culture and really didn’t care.

I was from New York City and Timmy was from San Francisco. It was 1968. Need I say more?

So me and Timmy drop the LSD. All of the sudden, like it was out of nowhere, the Chief puts on AFVN Radio over the speaker. I guess he wanted to spook the VC and NVA away with Rock and Roll. It’s worked before.

Who knows, The Chief probably didn’t feel like being in a fire fight that night. He was short. (Two months left in the wake up before DEROS: Date of Estimated Return from Overseas.) After this tour he was retiring to West Virginia Hillbilly Heaven.

Then the AFVN Radio Dee Jay plays “Pictures of Matchstick Men” by The Status Quo, just as the LSD kicks in. All of the sudden, it’s not such a hot and humid early evening in the ‘Nam anymore.

The sky is filled with beautifully layered pastel colors. Years later, I discovered that beauty was the poisonous leftover cancerous clouds of Agent Orange dust combined with Napalm.

But that evening, the colors seemed realllllllllllllllllly spectacular.  If you know what I mean.

The vivid colors made such a lasting impression. After  returning to the world, in college, I tried to duplicate those colors every day in my art class. I tried oils, watercolors and acrylics, but to no avail.

We were sitting cross legged leaning against the aft .50 cal machine gun, there is a soft warm breeze. The foliage rustles in the breeze, all is good with the world.

I now realize I love the breeze. I love the rustle from the breeze.

And I know from this day forward, I always will.

I looked at Timmy and smilingly said with a big grin: WFFO.

Meaning: Wow Far Fucking Out!

We usually only said WFFO when we called in an air strike and knew the VC or NVA were unable to escape from getting nalpamed.

The colorful fires were so dynamite to look at as they spread along the tree line in an orderly fashion bringing an orderly death to those little bastards.

Wow Far Fucking Out! They breathed in the liquified gas, their lungs instantly caught fire as they died a horrible death while their bodies burned to ashes.

Like the NVA says:

“Sinh ra trong Noreth chết ở miền Nam”

Translation:

“Born in the North to Die in the South”

Why not make it so?

Now, I believe I could resolve the previously contradictory conditions of the dream and reality of Viet Nam. Of course, I couldn’t really do that, it was the LSD talking. But that evening, I believed I most certainly could and most certainly would.

I realized that next day, I definitely couldn’t and definitely wouldn’t.

Then “Pictures of Matchstick Men” was over, but it wasn't. It continually replayed in my head. To this day, sometimes it still does.

*******

When I look up to the skies

I see your eyes a funny kind of yellow

I rush home to bed I soak my head

I see your face underneath my pillow

I wake next morning tired still yawning

See your face come peaking through my window

Pictures of matchstick men and you

Mirages of matchstick men and you

All I ever see is them and you

Windows echo your reflection

When I look in their direction gone

When will this haunting stop

Your face it just wont leave me a-lone

Pictures of matchstick men and you

Mirages of matchstick men and you

All I ever see is them and you

You in the sky you with this guy you make men cry you lie

You in the sky you with this guy you make men cry you lie

This is obviously a lost love song, but when you’re tripping on LSD, things in reality take on a totally different meaning.

Are the Matchstick Men the Viet Cong and NVA, in the sky, they make men like us cry and lie, that it means nothing to us to kill or die, looking at the colorful sky as others die? We look at each other and say WFFO and never wonder why?

Is “this guy”  with you “in the sky” God?

Do we love war?  Do we love to kill and watch them die.

Killing now seems so natural, so second nature.

We are trained to kill without mercy.

SAT CONG  (translation Kill Viet Cong.)

That was the LSD interpretation of “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” and it definitely is not mine anymore, I think.

I wanted to tell Mary my April 25th 1968 story and then add the following by showing her a picture of a skinny me water skiing off the back of the PBR in Viet Nam circa 1968.

“This is my 18 year old brain on drugs in the jungles of Southeast Asia.”

Then pointing out the hallway and saying:

“Those are your student 18 year old brains on ADD Drugs at your college in the United States.”

No comparison.

But, I just kept it all to myself, as I usually have for over 40 years.

*******

Epilogue

Some people tell me they’ve recently been to Viet Nam. “It’s a beautiful country” They say, “Why don’t you go back for a vacation?”

Most times, I’m not absolutely frank with people and give my usual wise guy non sensical answer:

I smile and eagerly say:“Like, maybe I can go up to a 50 something year old Vietnamese who was orphaned in 1968 and say.....I probably killed your father and fucked your mother?”

And then, some times, at a totally unguarded moment, I just sigh and truthfully answer:

“I go back every night.”

 

End

 

Frankie Neptune (formerly known as Frankie Rembly) observed the transition of his city from its past wild days in the later part of the last century to the present sterile bubble that is now New York City.  His insights from over twenty years as a NYC Police Officer offer a rather twisted view of our world in general.

For a more diverse selection of stories, visit his website http://www.notpcfiction.com

 

 

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